Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mason's Daughter (excerpt from Chapter Two):  On the morning of her discovery, Sally has taken her husband Jack’s appointment book to the local café where her father-in-law, Big Jack, is having breakfast. She needs his help.

Big Jack emits a ‘hmmmm’ while he shuffles his paper. He doesn’t cover his face, but he wants to get back to the article. It would be easier to navigate a field of landmines than capture his attention, but I have no choice but to move forward or else give up.

“Speaking of resolution, your help would be really valuable with something.” I finger the appointment book, tucked under my arm and out of his sight.

The newspaper crackles as he folds it and lays it to one side. “You bet, Sally-Girl.” He pulls his checkbook out of his back pocket. “Is Colton causing trouble again? Just tell me how much you need.”

I had made it a rule that my husband Jack and I would never accept financial assistance from our parents, not even for Colton. Jack’s older sisters soon regretted accepting their father’s generosity after they learned it always came with strings attached.

“Colton’s fine.”

“What is it, then?”

“I found something, um, of Jack’s that I want you to see.” I smile and try to come across like a student asking her teacher for an explanation. His return smile fades when I place Jack’s appointment book in front of him and open the cover. “Remember this?”

He nods.

“Please skip over to March. Start at the nineteenth. Would you mind taking a look at the lists of names and numbers and identifying them?”

He hesitates, and then flips the pages one by one until the book lies open to mid-January. Big Jack’s eyes graze my face while he grunts and squints, pushing his reading glasses up the bridge of his nose. He fans the pages past February and the first half of March and stops. “What about it?”

“See all those meetings and appointments on the day Jack died? Look at the following day, and several days after. Same thing, even into the next week.”

“I see them.”

“He made lots of plans after the nineteenth. Doesn’t that tell you anything?”

Shrugging, he closes the cover and nudges the book toward me.

I reopen it and tap my index finger on the page. “Despite what the coroner said, Jack never intended to kill himself. He had some project in the works. Look at all those names. Who are those people? If I get in touch with them, I bet they could at least tell me something.”

“Sally, you’ve got to stop poking through all this.” He removes his glasses, closes the book again, and shuffles it across the table. “You can squint your pretty blue eyes at me, but it won’t do anybody any good.”

“Yes, it will!” I ignore his scowl. “For Colton’s sake, I’ve got to prove Jack’s death was accidental. It’ll make you feel better, too, if … well, can’t you help me?”

“I don’t know any of those folks.” He wipes his hand over his mouth, as if trying to shove the words back inside.

 “Sure you do.”

With a quick jerk of his head, he stares at the parking lot. I follow his gaze. Outside a man in a black business suit wipes his sweaty forehead while he changes a front tire. Big Jack draws his lips together and blinks several times, as if counting the lug nuts. He exhales for so long, a smaller person would turn blue.

When he looks at me, his expression has grown frosty. “Never mention this again.”

I collapse against the back of the booth. “I didn’t mean to push you into a corner.”

“Forget it.”

Sally-Girl has blown it, and I wonder how to wriggle the truth out of him. “Okay.” I try my softest young-lady voice; it has worked in the past. “Maybe you can just tell me one tiny thing, then?”

Through narrow slits, he eyes me.

I clear my throat. “Why did Jack write my father’s name in his book?”

“Let me see that thing again.” He grabs the book and dogpaddles through the pages to find March. “Where?”

“The twenty-second.” I sit up straight. “Also his phone number.”

I’ve never seen anyone’s face turn crimson so fast. Fearing he will suddenly clutch his chest and keel over, I reach across to pat the back of his hand, a risky move since he shuns physical affection.

“Dammit to hell!” He bangs the book shut, hard enough that a few startled customers look at us. “Leave it alone, you hear me?”

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